Q&A: Harald Zwart


The first Norwegian accepted as a member of the Director's Guild of America, helmer Harald Zwart oscillates between making European and Hollywood movies. He made his English-language debut with "One Night at McCool's" and followed that up with "Agent Cody Banks," a teen James Bond-like tale. He also is exec producer of the "Dead Snow," a hot Norwegian horror title that screened at the Sundance Film Festival and got picked up by IFC Films. Zwart spoke with The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit ahead of his Berlin debut with "Pink Panther 2," the second installment of the relaunched Inspector Clouseau franchise.

The Hollywood Reporter: This is your first time in Berlin, right?

Harald Zwart: It is. Norwegians have gone to Berlin with Norwegian movies but I'm the first Norwegian to go to Berlin with a movie that is not made in Norway.

THR: How do you feel about that?

Zwart: I'm very proud of that. Actually I'm very proud of going to Berlin with this movie because it gives the movie an incredible credibility.

THR: Do you think "The Pink Panther" needs a lot of credibility?

Zwart: Some people could look at it as a comedy and not give it the credit that its due. It's a very smart comedy. And I think being accepted in Berlin proves that.

THR: Are you nervous at the kind of reception you can get? It can be very immediate.

Zwart: I get asked a lot if I'm nervous before openings or going into projects. I always try to think of myself like an astronaut. If you take a seat in the cockpit and you just trust that you've done everything right and the machinery is working like it should, then there's nothing more I can do. I don't think I would step into a spaceship and fly to the moon if I was nervous about how the outcome was going to be. If I did, then I would never have the nerve to do anything like that at all.

THR: And you shot "Panther" all over Europe?

Zwart: Actually we shot in five days in Paris and the rest in Boston.

THR: Are you serious?

Zwart: I decided to put cast above schedule. With people like John Cleese and Aishwarya Rai and Jeremy Irons, these are people that almost impossible to get into the same location at the same time. So for instance, the whole end scene with John Cleese, he was never there. I shot him two months later against a flat wall. I staged it so I had a double that crossed in front of the camera , and I worked a lot with eyelines and I glued him into the scene. So when I later plugged in John, it's completely seamless. The same thing with Aishwarya. She was half a day in Paris, in total.

THR: So Boston was Rome and all these other cities? How hard was that to do?

Zwart: Hard enough. Boston has a lot of European architecture but you still have to go in and look for specific corners and styles. I had a great production designer who was able to just with little tricks and little bits and pieces transform these locations into different towns. It was a combination of making that work and the scheduling nightmare we had and then building stuff.

THR: Do you find there's a bias in Europe against directors that work in America?
Zwart: Definitely. There is a certain attitude ... they tend to think that European movies have more credibility. I find myself defending the image of the American movie and saying, "You have to look carefully at them." The Terminator" is a great movie. Look at "American Beauty," "Little Miss Sunshine." There is this attitude that anything American is commercial and therefore has no credibility. Let me tell you, there are quite a few unwatchable European movies. But I have to be careful with what I say, as I still have a career over there.

THR: Your next movie is a remake of "The Karate Kid," with Will Smith's son Jaden and Jackie Chan. What details can you give us?

Zwart: I can't say too much about that. All I can say is that an opportunity with Will Smith is a sensational opportunity and this is a movie that I would have wanted to see regardless of it being a remake or not. It will be shot in Beijing. No Boston for Beijing (laughs).